Today is ‘R U OK?’ Day. I’m OK, and so is my comprehension of the English language. I’m pretty sure Hugh Jackman is OK too. But he’s going to flash that shit-eating grin all the same and tell you that it’s not about ‘us’ today, it’s about ‘U’.
Depression and suicide are not matters to be taken lightly. The act of devoting a portion of time out of your day to asking someone you know (or don’t know) the very simple question, “Are you okay?” and listening intently to their answer is a very nice sentiment. However, matters of mental health and suitable measures of treatment for those in need aren’t going to be resolved over a cup of coffee or after the duration of the aforementioned portion of your time have concluded. How many of us are truly prepared for a negative answer? Who wants to hear about the crippling low point of someone else’s current situation and how they feel utterly helpless and useless to do anything about it? Less I am labelled a liar, locating the logic in listening to a laborious lament over a latte leaves me… lacking.
The all too ugly truth of the matter is that not many people want to hear those types of responses because days such as this are more concerned with the inverted sense of wellbeing – that is, how good the person asking the question feels as opposed to the actual emotional state of the subject. It is in this “do good, feel good” mindset that we lose sight of the bigger picture. The problems we claim to be raising awareness for are no closer to being resolved and the individuals we are reaching out to who are trying to deal with such problems do so for an extended period of time, not just a day. Sadly, some cannot overcome these problems and depart our lives sooner than expected.
I’ve always been under the impression that we engage in acts of kindness on a daily basis because it’s just a nice thing to do. And what do you do in a situation where you’ve perceived that someone isn’t okay, confronted them about it, and it’s never even occurred to them that things might not be so peachy-keen? In some bizarre twist of fate, the would-be conciliator has somehow become the catalyst for the impending unravelling of their subject’s state of mind. Good luck negotiating your way out of that minefield. Those of us fortunate enough to have support networks reach out in times of need. Now we’re being dictated and allotted specific time frames in order to act upon what should come naturally to everyone, regardless of their social status or background? Are we that inept and self-involved?
Once we start conversations about depression and suicide, we need to be there for the relevant person from that point onwards. Genuine compassion isn’t something we can hand out in small doses when it suits – it’s an innate and beautiful part of what makes us connect with each other. What happens on September 14? Does everyone go back to their own self-indulgent narrow state of focus? Is September 14 going to be recognised as ‘IDGAF’ (I-Don’t-Give-A-Fuck) Day?
Seeing that I’ve fired off a whole lot of questions, I thought I’d turn to the website of the day for some answers. One of their recommendations on how to get involved is to gather a group and go to any Gloria Jean’s Coffee Shop and talk about what ‘R U OK?’ Day means to you. This is a splendid idea. In fact, some may say a stroke of pure genius. After drinking a sub-par cup of coffee, having to listen to how ‘R U OK?’ Day makes other people feel (all the while safe in the knowledge that you are funding sexual reorientation camps), I’d have no shortage of self-indulgent, privileged white guy tears to be caught by my – only fair to assume – poorly frothed cappuccino. There’s even a section on the website that informs you how to ask ‘R U OK?’
Excuse me for feeling like I’ve been beaten into submission by the stick of goodwill, but we’re better than that. Casually popping on a hat of concern doesn’t make you a counsellor.
If I want to do good by my family, friends and co-workers, I do good. I don’t need a day to push me in the right direction or genuinely ask someone how they’re doing. No one should. There’s a number of people we should be asking if they’re okay – Indigenous Australians, asylum seekers, the populations of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq – but we never seem to be. Perhaps it’s because we know we’re not going to feel good about the answer to the question.
It’s very likely that you, or someone you know, has suffered from depression. We’re all capable of acts of kindness and caring at any time. Setting aside a day to ask a question won’t solve anything. Raising awareness and talking about depression and suicide are small portions of a larger problem: that we’re all too consumed by what’s happening in our lives to take a moment and reflect on those around us. Offer to help people in need every day, not because it makes you feel like you’ve done a good deed, but because it’s common human decency.
Photo: cc licensed Flickr user Sander van der Wel